Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Embodied Knowledge - Part 3. Using Direct Experience and Metaphors to Understand the World

Our journey so far:
* Part I: All knowledge is comes from our senses
* Part II: Metaphors are bridges from direct to indirect knowledge

* How do we use these realizations to find good answers to tough

For most of our important Life Questions:

  • What causes cancer?
  • Should I drink bottled water or filtered tap water?
  • What is human nature?
  • How can I lose weight?
  • Are people inherently good or inherently evil?
  • Is it safe to eat tuna?
  • How do I know if I'm following my destiny?
  • Is there life after death?

the answers are not obvious. Following parts 1 and 2, we need to connect with direct experience and grounded metaphors. This is hard to do without help. We can't understand invisible biological systems directly. We need tools to make them visible, and carefully constructed experiments to determine how they function. Because most of us don't have access to these tools and experiments, we need help from the thousands of researchers that DO have access to these things, and HAVE studied and characterized them. If your curiosity is cancer, you are therefore very very lucky that researchers publish their findings, and the thing to do is read about cancer based on these published findings.

Just thinking about things isn't enough. There has to be a search. Or research.

The same formula applies to anything you want to study, provided that the tools of exploration have been invented, and they have been used by researchers who follow good experimental protocols and publish their results in peer-reviewed journals. Peer-reviewed journals are those that publish articles that have been reviewed by editors who are educated in their subject matter. This helps weed out mistakes, and reduces the amount of unreliable information that is published.

To understand the world, you have to study the world, or other people's studies and work at it until your answers make sense. You need to learn the best models available that characterize whatever you are studying. Since all models of understanding are based on metaphors, the goal is to find the metaphors that are most closely linked to the observations they are trying to explain. Those metaphors will be created by people who do the most direct studies of whatever you are learning.
  • Astronomers are the best people to ask about the stars.
  • Astro-physicists are the best people to ask about the age of the universe.
  • Auto mechanics are the best people to ask about what is going wrong with your car.
  • Photographers are the best people to ask about photography.
  • Chemists are the best people to ask about the chemistry of photographic film.
  • Faith healers are the best people to ask about the rationale behind faith-healing practises.
  • Statisticians examining empirical evidence are the best people to ask about the consequences of faith healing as a medical strategy.
  • Buddist monks are the best people to ask about the practises of buddhism (what it feels like to practise buddhist meditation).
  • Cognitive scientists are the best people to ask about the metaphorical thought-system of buddhism (what is actually going on in the brains of people practising meditation).
  • Neurologists are the best people to ask about the physical consequences of buddhist meditation on the brain.
  • Statisticians examining empirical evidence are the best people to ask about the consequences of buddhist meditation techniques on mental-health.

Properly studying something means finding out who understands it the best, and learning from them. These people should be able to provide explanations that tie-in directly to as many observations as possible. Their models should help researchers make predictions that come true.

  • It means finding out who is really exploring the exact subject you are interested in (as above), and studying what they have learned.
  • It means finding the shortest path to direct knowledge (sensation).

This kind of learning takes work, but it works! It is more involved than simply taking your uncle's or your teacher's or your doctor's or your pastor's or your president's or your sister's or your naturopath's word for it. And it gives you better answers than reading random books or newspaper articles or esoteric magazines or ancient manuscripts or amateur websites... Answers that are actually useful, that you can use to help your life and the lives of your loved ones! Answers that actually work, instead of wasting your time and money... Answers that protect you and your family from false prophets, misinformed people, con-artists and charlatans.


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